Positively Phil

By RICHARD BECK  |  September 16, 2008

Not only is this passage echoed in the title of Roth’s new novel, it is repeated almost verbatim, as Marcus destructively escalates an argument during which Winesburg’s dean of men accuses him of intolerance: “ ‘I never heard that said about me before, sir,’ said I at the very instant I inwardly sang out the most beautiful word in the English language: ‘In-dig-na-tion!’ ” In Portnoy, the word is left to fend for itself in an electrified current of exclamation points and sexual hysteria. Here, it’s at the center of the book’s power and consequences, and it seals its protagonist’s fate.

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